Kalema-Zikusoka: A woman of influence

Kalema-Zikusoka: A woman of influence

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What you need to know:

  • The veterinarian and conservationist is among the dozen Africans that have made it to the BBC 100 Women 2023 list.

The award-winning Ugandan trailblazing veterinarian and conservationist, Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, is among the dozen Africans that have made it to the BBC 100 Women 2023 list.

BBC 100 Women names 100 influential and inspiring women around the world every year. The BBC looks for candidates who have made headlines or influenced important stories over the past 12 months.

Joining Kalema-Zikusoka on the list are 11 other Africans.
The list also includes 28 Climate Pioneers, named ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) that took place in Dubai, UAE, from November 30 to December 12.

Others were selected from the fields of culture and education; entertainment and sport; politics and advocacy; science, health and tech.
Dr Kalema-Zikusoka works to save Uganda’s endangered mountain gorillas, whose habitat is being eroded by climate change. She is founder and chief executive officer of Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), an NGO that promotes biodiversity conservation by enabling people, gorillas and other wildlife to co-exist, while improving their health and habitat.
After three decades, she has helped increase the number of mountain gorillas from 300 to about 500, which was enough to downgrade them from critically endangered to endangered species.
Small wonder, Kalema-Zikusoka was named a Champion of the Earth in 2021 by the United Nations Environment Programme.
“What gives me hope in the climate crisis is the increasing acknowledgement that it needs to be addressed urgently. There are innovative methods to mitigate and adapt to this crisis,” Kalema-Zikusoka says.

“I am both incredibly honoured and humbled to have been included in the 2023 BBC 100 Women list, particularly as I am listed alongside so many inspiring and influential women who I admire so much like Michelle Obama, Melinda French Gates, Wanjira Mathai, and Christiana Figueres. It’s a recognition, not just for me but for the wonderful team at CTPH and the vital work we do in conserving the endangered mountain gorillas and other wildlife while improving the health and well-being of local communities,” she says.

She adds: “It’s also an incredible endorsement for our unique approach to conservation and climate change mitigation that addresses the health of people, animals and the environment together, which has contributed to an increase in the Bwindi mountain gorilla population from 300 in 1997 when I started out as Uganda’s first full-time wildlife veterinarian to a minimum of 459 in 2018. I hope that the BBC 100 Women list will inspire more women to get involved in conservation and climate mitigation.”
CTPH marked 20 years of existence on November 29.
It laid out a five-year strategic plan (2024-2028) that Kalema-Zikusoke says will “strengthen and expand our conservation efforts and community engagement to realise CTPH’s vision of thriving gorilla populations with thriving communities.”

This will, she adds, be anchored on “promoting the coexistence of people, gorillas and the environment through improving their health and wellbeing.”
Kalema-Zikusoka says when they started out, CTPH was the only organisation with a field programme integrating wildlife conservation and community public health.

“At the time, it was very difficult to get funding for multidisciplinary models such as our One Health approach to conservation,” she disclosed, adding, “However, with the rise of zoonotic diseases and increasing concern over rising temperatures, our One Health approach has gained much more recognition in recent years as a means to reducing zoonotic disease spillovers and mitigating the impact of climate change. I am proud to have contributed to Uganda being at the forefront of the One Health movement…”

Some of the other Africans on the 2023 BBC 100 women list 
Wanjira Mathai 
An inspiring leader for an entire continent, Wanjira Mathai has more than 20 years of experience advocating for social and environmental change. She led the Green Belt Movement, an indigenous grassroots organisation in Kenya that empowered women through the planting of trees, established by Wanjira’s mother and winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari Maathai.

Esi Buobasa 
A native of Fuveme, a Ghanaian village washed away by the sea, Esi Buobasa has experienced first-hand the impact of climate change. A leading fishmonger in her village, the mother of five and her colleagues set up a 100-strong association aimed at helping fisherwomen after their source of income was threatened by coastal erosion.

Susan Chomba 
Chomba says her experience of childhood poverty in Kirinyaga county in central Kenya motivates her to help improve the lives of others.  She primarily concerns herself with protecting forests, restoring landscapes and transforming Africa’s food systems.
“I’m more affected by the inaction of world leaders, especially from the major emitters, who also have the economic power to change course but are held back by money, power and politics,” she says.

Najla Mohamed-Lamin 

Mohamed-Lamin’s family is originally from Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, annexed by Morocco in 1975 and the subject of a long-running territorial dispute. They were forced into exile after fleeing violence. Born and raised in the camps, Mohamed-Lamin learnt English as a teenager, translated for foreign delegations and was able to study abroad after she crowdfunded her tuition fees. After graduating in sustainable development and women’s studies, she returned to the camps to help more than 200,000 Saharawi refugees deal with water and food insecurity made worse by climate change.

Jennifer Uchendu 
In 2022, Uchendu set up The Eco-Anxiety Africa Project (TEAP) to focus on validating and safeguarding climate emotions in Africans through research, advocacy and climate-aware psychotherapy. Her goal is to work with people and organisations interested in shifting mindsets and doing the hard and often uncomfortable work of learning about climate emotions.

Yasmina Benslimane 
Dedicated to advancing gender equality, Benslimane founded Politics4Her. It promotes the participation of young women and girls in political and decision-making processes.
When a devastating earthquake struck her home country of Morocco in September, Benslimane and her organisation called for a gender-sensitive relief response.

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